Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Throw Out Your TV!

new logo Apart from teaching us to love Jesus, one of the best things my parents did for me and my siblings was to fail to buy us a TV. Oh, we had a 9″ black & white TV for about 15 months while my grandmother lived with us — she was almost entirely blind and liked the noise for company. And my folks used to rent a TV and a VCR on a few long weekends during the winter for video-fests … so we weren’t completely TV-free.

The rest of the time, we didn’t have one at all. When others talked about “Who shot J.R.?” (I thought they were talking about Tolkien) or the latest escapades of Don Johnson in Miami Vice, my eyes would glaze over. I thought Moonlighting was working a second job, and wondered why it was so popular among high school students. Some people thought I was pretty weird: “You don’t have a TV?” they would gasp. Some assumed that our family was poverty-stricken, and would check to see if I was wearing shoes. Even in those days, not having a TV was unthinkable, for some.

Scootin' Along
Sometimes it is good to ride your scooter. This was one of those times.

Recent (2006) statistics from Nielsen, according to The Center for Screen Time Awareness indicate that the television has continued to become more and more important in the lives of American families. The average home in this country has more TVs than it has people, allowing each of us (on average) to watch 4 hours and 35 minutes of televised programming, day in and day out.

As a teenager, I began to appreciate the advantages of being TV-free. I was proud of the fact that our family was different, and I would look for opportunities to provoke astonishment:

Friend: So, my Science Report topic is on the Feeding Habits of Giant Squid.
Me: Say, that reminds me, did you know that our family doesn’t have a TV?

I was often very subtle about the way I would work it into the conversation, as you can see.

People used to ask me, “What do you do, without a TV?” Mostly, I read books, played games, rode my bike and played football or tennis. I used to mow lawns and do other yard work; later in high school I worked a job at a local hotel a few nights a week. When I couldn’t think of anything else to do, I did my homework.

When Kathy and I were first married, we decided not to have a TV in our house. Eventually we found a way to watch movies through our computers, and in 2003 we caved and bought a TV for use with our DVD and VCR players. Technically, then, I do have a TV, so I can’t occupy the moral high ground … but I will say that we have never watched any broadcast show on it. We limit what we watch to movies or shows that have been taped or recorded, and we are pretty discriminating about what we watch, and when we watch it. We generally only let our kids watch movies that we have pre-viewed, and we require the kids to pay a poker chip when they do watch a video. Neither Kathy nor I are particularly immune to the lure of TV — we’ve found it best to not allow it a foothold.

I think there are some huge advantages to eliminating broadcast (or cable) TV from your home:

  • Cost — many people pay $30-$100 per month for cable. What a huge savings, if you eliminated that drain on your resources!
  • Commercials — companies wouldn’t keep advertising their products on TV if commercials didn’t work. Who do you want to dictate your family’s spending, you or some company that doesn’t have your best interests at heart?
  • Protection against immorality — more and more, shows on broadcast TV and cable are ‘pushing the envelope’ of violence and sexual immorality. As children are exposed, they become acclimated to this filth that is so attractively packaged and humorously distributed, so that they come to believe it is ‘normal’ and appropriate. Even adults are susceptible to temptation and being deceived, last time I checked.
  • Time — it has been estimated that the average adult spends 40% of his or her free time watching TV. Getting rid of your TV might be a great way to reclaim a large bucket of time in these days when most people consider themselves stressed for time.

Worship at the Shrine
We keep ours in the garage, where nobody can see us making our offerings and burning our incense.

My largest objection to TV, especially the kind that you allow to be ‘pushed’ onto your family, is that it seems to serve as a concentrated avenue, inside the home, for worldly philosophies to attack you and your children. If you watch TV long enough, you can’t help but begin to subscribe to some of the ideas that are ‘preached’.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
– I John 2:15-17

If you are a Christian parent, have you ever thought about what you are teaching your children by letting them watch TV for hours on end? Have you ever considered the effect it has on your love for God, to allow yourself to be bombarded with a world-view that is inherently hostile to Him? Oh, I suppose there might be a handful of relatively harmless shows on TV; but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule, and few can stand up to any serious moral scrutiny.

Ride a bike!
I’ll be the first to admit that we are still a family of couch potatoes, even without a TV. How much bike riding would we do, if we allowed ourselves to watch television?

I could go on and on, but I don’t really need to. And I’m not trying to be all “holier-than-thou” — our family does not forgo entertainment. I’m just trying to bring the idea of living without a TV into the realm of the possible, for your consideration. There are lots of studies and resources available that catalog the evils of television — either you believe ‘em or you don’t. I’ve listed a few that I came across below:

Television and Health, California State University
How Television Viewing Affects Children, University of Maine — Facts and TV Statistics
TV Turnoff Network

Last, but not least, here is an excerpt from Dee Duke’s excellent parenting seminar, in which he addresses this issue:
Dee Duke on TV (Warning, 6MB file, not safe for dialup.)

While some may tout the educational benefits of television, it is interesting to note this finding from a Zogby poll:

While 59 percent of Americans can name The Three Stooges, only 17 percent can name three Supreme Court Justices.

Tim, Project 365, Day 288

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16 thoughts on “Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Throw Out Your TV!”

  1. Way to Go, Tim. I might point out that you still do have the moral high ground, since what you have in the garage (where you bow down and burn incense) is not technically a TV. Since it does not receive either broadcast or cable television shows, it is nothing more than a CRT – a cathode ray tube – or a modern equivalent. As people are attending movie theaters less these days, the trend is to create a “theater” atmosphere in the home through use of huge (and expensive) screen TVs or Screens to reflect projected TV shows.

    Probably a deeper issue, and one that we all wrestle with, is not the tube itself, or the size of the screen, or the source of the entertainment, but the time spent in “passive” entertainment itself. Even outstanding movies received via Video or DVD, even if moral (relatively) or with a positive message, unless they contribute to the ultimate spiritual growth of the family are probably something to be skipped.

    One further note, which you might want to share with your readers. The weird family you grew up in, not only had no TV – they almost never went to the movies. Maybe that’s why you’ve always been an excellent reader. Thanks for this blog entry.

    Grandpa Edgren

  2. We used to be tv free. I do think you have good points and maybe someday we’ll be free of the black box again.LOL Your posts on parenting have been very thought provoking.


    Lisa in Jax

  3. I’d much rather sit and read a blog such as this with my son Samuel (as we just did) than watch some dumb ol’ TV show except maybe Andy Griffith, which of course you can’t find on TV these days but just on DVD which we do have and enjoy watching together and sometimes a MacGyver episode too because they’ve got cool gadgets and stuff…

  4. “Probably a deeper issue, and one that we all wrestle with, is not the tube itself, or the size of the screen, or the source of the entertainment, but the time spent in “passive” entertainment itself. ”
    I think Grandpa nailed it here! My personal problem doesn’t lie with the T.V. like it used to, but if we start talking computer time…yikes!
    Oh, and a note to Kathy…thanks for stopping by! I wanted to tell you that the fondant that I used was the pre-packaged stuff (Wilton-white) and while I added a little vanilla flavoring, it’s still not the tastiest stuff on the planet. I’m sure that there is a good recipe out there, though. However, I think the texture is a hard one to get by. My kids just peel it off.
    Hope you all have a wonderful day!

  5. I like to read blogs and books in my free time, but the kids do like to watch TV.. probably more than they should. I somehow convince myself it’s ok since dd2 who wants to be an architect someday watches some kitchen design show, house hunters, etc.,…. and the boys like to watch hunting and truck repair shows (LOL)! We rarely watch anything on regular tv…..

  6. I would have to completely agree with Grandpa Edgren!

    The TV itself is not evil. While I do concur that it does convey things that are in direct oppposition to our faith, it is not the problem. It is we, as sensual humans, that need the constant entertainment … in whatever form that is. Broadcast TV, network or cable, movies, video games….it’s all the same. To say that one is less destructive than the other sounds almost, if I may be so bold to say, like a justification to me. And call me crazy, but I do remember being asked to tape the dreaded ‘broadcast show’ for a friend’s family to watch …. but maybe I was dreaming…. *wink* ha!

    Tim, I totally understand what you are saying and agree that too much time is wasted in front of TV. It is all a waste and the Lord, on more than one occassion, has revealed as much to me. The root is sinful desires and we, in our own power, can do nothing to restrain it, no matter how many boundaries we try to set.

    It gets down to the heart. The question that really begs to be answered is …. Is what I am doing, watching, eating, saying, thinking or reading showing God that I love Him most and desire to be with Him above all else?

    Thanks for the post, Tim. Thought provoking and challenging, as usual!!! :)

  7. My struggles with TV/computers/movies come not with wanting to watch it or movies myself — well, except for LOST, always a proviso there! But I do struggle with wanting to plug my children in to it so I can have a mechanical babysitter. One thing I have learned is that, unless TV or computer games are strictly limited to small blocks of pre-planned time, two things begin to happen: 1. Relationships deteriorate. My children become less patient with their fellow humans. No doubt the ones on TV are more interesting and captivating, and don’t require the children to spend any effort — like sharing or listening — on them. 2. The children become less likely to us their imaginations in coming up with entertainment. When they don’t watch TV, they spend their time building laundry basket forts, coloring pictures, setting up their army men in battle positions, climbing trees, having tea parties with the My Little Ponies, or sliding down the bank into our creek, etc etc. Whenever I “slip” and let them watch large blocks of even morally acceptable TV or movies, I pay the price in relationships and creativity. ARC

  8. Michelle –

    I’m afraid that I cannot agree with what you have said in your comment above. I think that there is a BIG difference between Broadcast TV, network/cable, and movies and video games. The key (at least in my mind) is that TV and cable are ‘pushed’ at you, while movies and games can be selected, or ‘pulled’. When you sit down to watch a broadcast or cable show, you hand over, in some sense, your moral authority, and you take ‘pot luck’ from whatever the network or producer or director is pushing this week. Sure, you can get an idea about a show by watching an episode or two, but (unless you have some access in advance to reviews) you don’t really know what you’re being served on a week-to-week basis. In addition, you have no real defense against the objectionable nature of the commercials you’ll see, or the trailers and teasers for other shows that are splashed around almost indiscriminately. You might sit down for a cozy episode of some 30 minute ‘safe’ show and find that as much as a third of your viewing time features inappropriate material in the form of unexpected content, commercials and leaders for other shows.

    Conversely, movies and computer games can be reviewed and carefully vetted before they are purchased … because their acquisition is usually a conscious step, there is a greater sense of personal responsibility. I might blush to have a particular objectionable movie on my video shelf (where a visitor or a child might see it), but if it ‘happened to be on’ I might be much more likely to succumb to the temptation to view it on TV in the privacy of my home (or hotel room, when I travel). Kathy and I have determined not to watch anything worse than a PG-13 rating; admittedly, even this ‘conservative’ restriction fails to limit some pretty objectionable stuff. Kathy has found some excellent websites that go into detail on the contents of movies, and we rely heavily on the ‘ole fast-forward button. Before they were put out of business, we managed to acquire about 15 titles from CleanFilms, an outfit that removed obscenity, violence and sexual innuendo from otherwise decent films.

    Focus on the Family
    Screen It

    I don’t think I’m splitting hairs. Here’s my challenge to your “Broadcast TV, network or cable, movies, video games … it’s all the same” statement: next time you sit down to watch TV for any extended period, grab a notebook. Write out this verse (Philippians 4:8) at the top of the page:

    “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

    Below the verse, draw a line down the middle of the page, and list each of the words (true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy) on the left side, and their opposites on the right hand side. Keep score while you watch: the shows, commercials, teasers, everything. If you see something that is pure, lovely or true, etc., put a tick beside that word on the left, if you see something that is impure, unlovely or false, etc., put a tick beside that word on the right, and so on. If, at the end of your TV-viewing session, the right side is empty, then you’re right — TV viewing is just a matter of time stewardship and you can approach the question strictly on a time stewardship basis. But if the right side has a good number of tick-marks, ask yourself, how much of this garbage can I take in, before it poisons my heart, and damages my soul?

    I’ll do the same with my current favorite computer game, Port Royale 2. I grant you, there won’t be much on the left side of the page, but there will be precious little on the right side, either. The game that I’m currently playing has me, as a ship captain, nobly saving the town from a series of disasters — first a famine, then a worker’s strike, most recently a plague. I drive my little ship convoys around, buying low and selling high, building industries, ferrying workers, and bringing home the products that my town needs. Admittedly, if I ever run across a pirate, I’ll blow him out of the water, but even this is accomplished with tasteful graphics and a general lack of blood and gore.

    Some time ago, I had the opportunity to spend about 90 minutes during prime-time TV hours, engaged in the exercise I describe above. I was astonished by how many tick marks were on the right side of the page, and how few were on the left. The year: 1982. Do you think TV has become more or less permissive toward violence, greed, sexual immorality and obscene language (just to name a few) in the last 25 years? Based on my own limited observation (from TV I’ve watched while traveling), I’d say there is no question that the ‘decency standards’ of 1982 (such as they were) would be considered ‘quaint’ and ‘morally uptight’ by today’s viewing audience.

    Jesus was asked why his disciples didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before they ate, and was accused of being permissive toward immoral uncleanness (if you’ll excuse a double-negative) in his followers. He addressed the question in words that apply, I think, to our discussion:

    “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” Matthew 15:16b-20

    Whenever I talk to people on this subject, there is one almost invariant response: “Well, I don’t really watch that much TV, but when I do, I only watch (insert name of wholesome show here).” Ignoring the question of how much time people really spend on entertainment, what happens when the show is over? Do they leap up, invigorated by the fitness or home-improvement show they just watched, and rush off to do good works? Or do they settle in for another hour and take whatever show the network or cable company serves up next, a show they did not ‘intend’ to watch? Based on ‘average’ daily viewing of four hours and 35 minutes, I’d say there is a lot of settling in, and not much leaping up, going on. Of course, like the children of Garrison Keiler’s Lake Woebegone, all my readers are above average. :)

    Perhaps you didn’t mean it this way, but your comment about Kathy asking you to record a show for her seems intended to chip away at, or discredit my message. I guess my only response to that is that, yes, our family does occasionally watch taped episodes of Biggest Loser and Extreme Home Makeover (or whatever those shows are entitled). While I would like to distance myself (after all, it wasn’t ME that asked you to tape it), I must admit that I get drawn in to watching them, too. That doesn’t negate what I am saying, all it does is make me out to be a bit of a hypocrite. I guess I’ll have to live with that, or work harder to align my behavior (and that of my household) with my beliefs.

    Parenting is mostly about leadership, and leadership is mostly about example. If I tell my kids, “No, you shouldn’t watch such-and-such movie because it contains material that is not pleasing to God,” and then I turn around and watch something just as bad on TV myself, what have I communicated to my kids? Sadly, many parents don’t even bother with the double standard these days — I understand that (according to a 2003 study by the Kaiser Family foundation) one out of four toddlers (aged 0-2) have a TV in their bedrooms.

    I also disagree with the tenor of your statement about boundaries. You seem to imply that, because we can’t resist sin in our own strength, setting boundaries may be a fruitless exercise. I think perhaps I misunderstand your implication, because I don’t find that to be the case. While I’ll be the first to agree with you that I require the power of the Holy Spirit to resist sin in my life, one of the main ways that the Holy Spirit protects me from sin is by nudging me to create boundaries. I wrote about this in my parenting tip entitled Walk Away. Again and again, the Holy Spirit has convicted me of my tendency to flirt with and walk too close to the edge of sin, and has shed light on my self-delusion that I am somehow immune to temptation.

    I have one final remark. A cool thing that comes with the lack of a TV is a general sense of disconnection with society. I don’t know what the latest trends are, and (as you can tell from the way I dress) I’m a bit out-of-step with popular culture. Some might disparage that, but I like it, and I think it helps to cement in my heart an understanding of this scripture:

    “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” I Peter 2:11-12 (emphasis mine)

    I enjoy the fact that my children know more about Little House on the Prairie and the Andy Griffith Show than they do about whatever popular show is being watched by kids these days. I like the idea that I am different (at least a little) from the ‘pagans’ who do not love God, and it helps me, not to have sinful desires warring against my soul, awakened and re-awakened by what I watch.


  9. Wow, Tim. I’m thinking that I have hit a nerve. I’m so sorry. My intention was not to offend. I hope that you’ll forgive me. I was only expressing my opinion to the post. Having come from a church where legalism was the norm to almost cult levels, I am a little senstive when hard and fast ‘rules’ are put in place.

    First off, good golly, I count Kathy as one of my VERY dearest friends and I TOTALLY & COMPLETELY admire the way that you and she parent. I in NO WAY am condemning nor chipping away at your message. I couldn’t agree with you more….too much of the world, in any form of conveyance, is a bad thing. Garbage in, Garbage out. I was just poking a little fun … obviously, I crossed a line. :(

    Secondly, I don’t think that boundaries are bad….at all. But, the caution, I think, is then where do we draw lines? What is acceptable to one, in the case of love scenes for instance, might be different for another or how many times a person is willing to hear the Lord’s name taken in vain might be different from yet another. Do you see what I’m saying? All is unacceptable but we know (we too will only view PG13, & that too now seems to be pushing the limits) that all those things in varying degrees are in even PG13 movies. So, it’s come down to a personal family conviction, as the Lord moves in our hearts. It’s like the verses in 1 Cor. 6:12-13 … Everything permissible but is it really beneficial and am I mastered by it? That’s all I was trying to say.

    Lastly, we limit our TV time as well. The kids get to view very selected movies and are still only allowed G ratings. This is not the norm in the culture, even in the Christian culture, with kids at the age of 6 & 9. We, too, enjoy the innocence that our kids have.

    So, we each do what we believe God has called us to do and we’ll answer to Him for it.

    Again, please forgive me for offending you. I love you guys…. you continue to be an awesome example of a godly family.

  10. Great entry, Tim! We are not TV free, but very, very limited. The kids watch no commercial TV and get 1/2 hour of PBS. The do enjoy videos.

    I have taken myself off TV, for the simple reason that the programs I enjoyed…CSI type, were making me numb to the depravity of humanity. Nothing was shocking me anymore. (Okay, so not totally, I’m watching the Red Sox win, win, win! :-))

  11. Thanks for your insight. We are a TV family even though we really don’t watch it that much. We do enjoy watching certain shows together. Some of our most fun family nights are the American Idol nights. We have a blast coming together each week to watch the talented and not so talented kids :-) Also, my husband and I are news junkies so we have to get our fill of Fox News in the evening. Also, I do LOVE to watch a few shows on Food Network and HGTV. My husband is a New York Yankee addict so we did pay to have all the games on TV. I guess it was cheaper than flying him all over the country to watch them in person LOL The kids are so busy they really don’t watch TV that much. I do appreciate your insight. It was very thought provoking!

  12. Heh. That’s funny; I said the same thing when spoke with Kathy after I read your first comment: “I think I hit a nerve with Michelle!” :)

    I’m not trying to set up legalistic rules … this is, after all, a blog entry on parenting advice, take it or leave it. From what you say about your own practices, it sounds as though you’ve thought it through.

    As you know, I have to guard against taking myself too seriously, and sometimes I come across as rather pompous, as (no doubt) I am in this comment. It is certainly true that I got fired up about your comment — I felt badly that I had done a slip-shod job in writing the original blog post. I am very thankful that you provoked an opportunity to more clearly communicate my heart on this matter, if only in a comment. :)

    I think it is possible to take I Corinthians 6:12 too far, or to inappropriately apply it as a sort of waiver in areas where the scriptures do speak clearly. But that is a subject for another conversation, I think.

    My personal conviction is that broadcast TV and cable, when weighed in balance, bombard my family with an unacceptable level of objectionable content. I’m not speaking ex cathedra on this, but that is what I think, and I naturally advise other parents in accordance with my own belief about what works best.

    I don’t want (all evidence to the contrary) to beat this horse to death. I just want to challenge an ‘institution’ that has become synonymous with American culture, and to encourage parents to think critically about the entertainment choices they make for their children.

    At the end of the day, Kathy and I love you, and we greatly value your friendship. Thanks for engaging me in this discussion. :)


  13. We had NO tv for the kids first five years but finally bowed down to the entertainment god. I loved it and hated it. We only had the DVD/TV combo, never cable or channels but lately even just the DVD usage is getting out of hand. Interesting that you posted this because today we officially canceled our netflix subscription. Going completely cold turkey and I can already feel my eye starting to twitch.

  14. Cindy and I went tv-less for a period of time earlier in our marriage. It was a good experience, and that break gave us insights into our habits and allowed us to start fresh.

    When we moved to our current house, which is farther out of town, we opted for satellite tv. The installer gets credit for an “upsale” by talking me into DVR which allows us to record in lots of fancy ways.
    As homeschoolers, we were thrilled to be able to have it magically record any program that met specifications. For example, we set it to record automatically anything that included the word “volcano” in its description when that was a subject of study. Same with “Greece” and “Rome” and “Egypt.”
    Now we never watch “live” tv, only stuff we’ve recorded.
    And…here’s the joyous part for our family…we fast forward through every commercial. I can’t remember the last time I saw a commercial.
    To our credit at least, we only watch soap operas, reality shows, horror movies and dirty sit-coms with the children.
    Don’t worry, we can still be cyberfriends even though I have a tv attached to an IV in my forearm and you keep your tv locked in the dungeon.
    Now, computers…that’s something we can all agree is evil. Don’t you just hate this internet thingie?

  15. The Three Stooges, let’s see… I used to know who they were. Murly, Bill, and Poe, right? Something like that…

    Anyway, I agree about the network television thing. Practically nothing on the tube now is worth watching (except our wonderful Monk, and of course, Stargate). But I think the value of old TV shows (I Love Lucy, The Dick van Dyke Show, etc.) are highly underrated and underwatched.

    Without broadcast television, though, there’s movies, which I do love, especially after a day of hard labor (school, lifting 200-pound bags of sand and moving them across the yard for no apparent reason, that kind of thing). They help me relax, and it’s almost as good as reading. Kind of.

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